Ever walked into a bulk-billing clinic when you or a loved one was sick? It wasn’t so long ago that you would’ve had to pay for that trip to the doctor, no matter how small the ailment.
In 1976 union members led one of the largest strikes in Australia’s history to defend universal healthcare.
Around 2.5 million workers went on a 24-hour strike in July 1976. At the time, that was around two-thirds of employed people in Australia who risked the repercussions and took to the streets.
It happened thanks to workers in their unions taking a stand together and without it we wouldn’t have the Medicare system we know and rely on today.
Hard fought, hard won
Then called Medibank (not to be confused with the Medibank of today), the universal healthcare system implemented by the Whitlam Labor Government in the 1970s was strongly supported by the Australian union movement.
But after the dismissal of the Whitlam Government, the following Liberal Government in 1975 reversed progress and union members realised that it would take a huge stand to protect universal healthcare for all Australians.
It was at this point that the union-led strike of July 1976 took place with millions of workers participating from all over the country.
The pushback from so many workers slowed down Fraser’s attacks but he was determined to undermine the universal healthcare system.
When we had a Labor Government back in power in 1983, the union movement pressured the Hawke Government to restore the system.
That’s when Medicare came into being – the healthcare system union members have campaigned to protect and improve ever since.
Protecting Medicare is union business
What the 1976 strike showed Australia, is that when workers in unions act collectively to achieve changes for everyone, politicians have no choice but to listen.
Union members have come together time and time again to prevent attacks on our Medicare system. And we will continue to take a stand each and every time..
Just this year, it has been for the sake of our healthcare system that we’ve seen midwives, nurses and aged workers go on strike about appalling work conditions, low wages and the serious underfunding of our public hospitals and aged care facilities.
Australian Unions is made up of workers driving the movement to create better, safer workplaces for the future.
We’ve always worked towards purposeful change – sick pay, annual leave, penalty rates, even weekends. Fundamental rights that benefit generations of Australians.